Psycho. In Tagalog, “baliw”—a general label for people with mental illness. Since I was a kid, I had already been familiar with that word, way before mental health awareness started to emerge as a social issue. Not because my parents are psychologists or that I was exposed early to the study of psychology, but because mental illness runs in our family.

“Damn, my AP goin’ psycho, lil’ mama bad like Michael…”

“Oh, she’s sweet but a psycho, a little bit psycho…”

“You got me feeling like a psycho, psycho…”

If people would see the lyrics above, I bet at least one of them, if not all, would be read while singing. The third one may even make K-Pop fans like me dance, either literally or just in our minds.

What I find fascinating about these three songs, however, is their common theme: “psycho”. A genre of music consumed by many people who mostly regard themselves as the “cool ones”, but using a supposed word of insult. It makes me think: Does being a “psycho” make you cool these days?

“Nasa lahi natin ang pagiging baliw.” I can no longer remember my reaction when I first heard that statement. I can only remember that I was playing outside from morning until late in the afternoon. I did not know then that there is such a field as psychology, or that Wundt or Freud once existed on this planet. I was not aware of all of these, but I already knew there was a possibility that I might end up being a baliw one day.

I grew up in the same compound with a family member who had schizophrenia — my father’s brother. For the most part, he was just a normal thoughtful, and smart Tito for me. He helped me a lot in my homework when I was in grade school, and he was very appreciative of my achievements. I remember seeing him go to the National Center for Mental Health in Mandaluyong once in a while. My immediate family had early on suspected that there was something “different” with him.

We faced a lot of struggles whenever he had his episodes. Oftentimes he would cause a fight with anyone in our compound, sometimes for no reason at all, other times because he was annoyed by a particular noise. Our typical response in situations like that was to have the children stay inside the house, lock the door, and let the adults manage the situation. As a child, I never understood any of those events; it all just convinced me that I must do everything I could to not have the same fate as my uncle. I witnessed how his illness gained control over his life, and how it ate all the opportunities he could have had if not for his condition.

My father died when I was only six, so it was just my mother, with her little knowledge about this issue, who tried her best to prevent us, her children, from ending up with the same condition. From what I heard from her, my Tito was seen as a “loner” ever since he was still a kid. Perhaps she assumed it was the thing that triggered his condition, so my mother’s solution was to always motivate us to go outside and play with our friends. She would never allow us to be alone in a corner with no one to talk to or play with. She drilled on us the importance of sharing whatever is bothering us with other people, even if not with her specifically. In her words, “’wag na ‘wag ninyong sasarilihin and problema n’yo.”

This had a significant influence on how I connected with other people. I became a friendly type of person—an extrovert. I still think sometimes that I enjoy solitude more than having other people’s company, but I do not delve into the thought that I do not need anyone to survive, because I do.

The word “psycho” may never be acceptable, but thanks to Post Malone, Ava Max and Red Velvet, at least it sounds a little less of an insult now.

To date, there is still no definite answer about the genetic predisposition or chances of mental disorders being passed on from one family member to the next. I try my best to stay updated about this topic for my own sake, but most times, reading through different research articles about it makes me anxious. It has always been a dilemma between staying updated and not thinking about the issue at all, in hopes that it might completely disappear from my consciousness one day.

If there is one thing I am sure about at this moment, it is that any person can be prone to having mental health problems, especially in these trying times. Yes, regardless if one does not think it runs in their blood or that no one in their family has ever had it. Mental health is a serious matter that everyone should always consider taking care of. My mother’s solution to our so-called familial disease may not be research-based or adapted from any psychological theory, but the point remains much valid: Never be afraid to ask for help.

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